As thousands of organizations work to contain and clean up the mess from this week’s devastating Wana ransomware attack, the fraudsters responsible for releasing the digital contagion are no doubt counting their earnings and congratulating themselves on a job well done. But according to a review of the Bitcoin addresses hard-coded into Wana, it appears the perpetrators of what’s being called the worst ransomware outbreak ever have made little more than USD $26,000 so far from the scam.
The Wana ransomware became a global epidemic virtually overnight this week, after criminals started distributing copies of the malware with the help of a security vulnerability in Windows computers that Microsoft patched in March 2017. Infected computers have all their documents and other important user files scrambled with strong encryption, and victims without access to good backups of that data have two choices: Kiss the data goodbye, or pay the ransom — the equivalent of approximately USD $300 worth of the virtual currency Bitcoin.
According to a detailed writeup on the Wana ransomware published Friday by security firm Redsocks, Wana contains three bitcoin payment addresses that are hard-coded into the malware. One of the nice things about Bitcoin is that anyone can view all of the historic transactions tied a given Bitcoin payment address. As a result, it’s possible to tell how much the criminals at the helm of this crimeware spree have made so far and how many victims have paid the ransom.
A review of the three payment addresses hardcoded into the Wana ransomware strain indicates that these accounts to date have received 100 payments totaling slightly more than 15 Bitcoins — or approximately $26,148 at the current Bitcoin-to-dollars exchange rate.
It is possible that the crooks responsible for this attack maintained other Bitcoin addresses that were used to receive payments in connection with this attack, but there is currently no evidence of that. It’s worth noting that the ransom note Wana popped up on victim screens (see screenshot above) included a “Contact Us” feature that may have been used by some victims to communicate directly with the fraudsters. Also, I realize that in many ways USD $26,000 is a great deal of money.
However, I find it depressing to think of the massive financial damage likely wrought by this ransom campaign in exchange for such a comparatively small reward. It’s particularly galling because this attack potentially endangered the lives of many. At least 16 hospitals in the United Kingdom were diverting patients and rescheduling procedures on Friday thanks to the Wana outbreak, meaning the attack may well have hurt people physically (no deaths have been reported so far, thank goodness).
Unfortunately, this glaring disparity is par for the course with cybercrime in general. As I observed on several occasions in my book Spam Nation — which tracked the careers of some of the most successful malware writers and pharmacy pill spammers on the planet — it was often disheartening to see how little money most of those guys made given the sheer amount of digital disease they were pumping out into the Internet on a daily basis.
In fact, very few of these individuals made much money at all, and yet they were responsible for perpetuating a global crime machine that inflicted enormous damage on businesses and consumers. A quote in the book from Stefan Savage, a computer science professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) encapsulates the disparity quite nicely and seems to have aged quite well:
“What’s fascinating about all this is that at the end of the day, we’re not talking about all that much money,” Savage said. “These guys running the pharma programs are not Donald Trumps, yet their activity is going to have real and substantial financial impact on the day-to-day lives of tens of millions of people. In other words, for these guys to make modest riches, we need a multibillion-dollar industry to deal with them.”